The Best Free Things to Do in Asheville
Attractions,  Family Friendly

The 16 Best Free Things to Do in Asheville

They say that the best things in life can’t be bought, and that’s especially true in Asheville. Planning a trip on a budget to a place with astonishing outdoors and plenty of walkable areas is easy! 

You’ll have a blast spending the day hiking trails off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, enjoying scenic drives, chilling at a downtown park, listening to bluegrass at a free concert, or checking out local vendors at the River Arts District farmers’ market. 

Don’t be intimidated by Asheville’s award-winning food scene. There are plenty of places – from cafés to restaurants to food trucks – where you can have excellent food at reasonable prices. Also, some of those places you’ve read about in the news are not actually that expensive.

If you’re planning a budget-friendly trip and are looking for free things to do in Asheville, you’re in luck. There are many fun free activities and attractions in Asheville year-round. I’ve compiled a few of those, plus some with a small charge to help you make the most of your Asheville getaway!

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16 Fun Free Things to Do in Asheville 

1. Walk the Black Cultural Heritage Trail

The newly inaugurated Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail is an invitation to learn about the stories of Black people in the area. It is one of the best free things to do in Asheville if you want to dive deeper into the social fabric of our city. You’ll also pass by lots of local attractions and places to eat or grab a snack.

The trail takes visitors through downtown, the Southside, and the River Area during the 2.5-hour self-guided tour. The stops are marked with Sankofa bird signs. Sankofa is a Twi word from the Akan Tribe of Ghana and loosely translates as “It is not taboo to go back for what you forgot (or left behind).” 

“The Sankofa bird encourages this thought: Take lessons from the past to build a brighter future. It also begs the question: Do we have the courage to do so? Remember that question today as you walk this trail that recognizes injustice and suffering and commemorates the power and accomplishments of Asheville’s Black community.”

The Dig Deeper section of the website offers a lot of additional resources. 

2. Go with the Flow in Downtown

Best Free Things to do in Asheville: Downtown

Downtown is an entirely walkable area featuring some of the best things to do in Asheville for free. From hanging out at public parks and joining fun festivals to checking out street art and doing self-guided tours, you’ll be able to explore for hours without breaking the bank. Try to budget your money for a great yet affordable meal and dessert!

There is metered parking throughout downtown Asheville, with a two-hour maximum limit, and parking lots and garages for longer-term parking. You can also park for free in adjacent areas, like Montford and Five Points, and enjoy the short walk downtown.

3. See Historical Landmarks on the Urban Trail 

Fun Free Things to do in Asheville: Pack Square

The Urban Trail is a two-hour self-guided audio tour that follows 30 bronze sculptures and plaques marking historical landmarks around downtown. It’s one of the coolest things to do in Asheville for free, and it’s a dog and kid-friendly activity. 

You’ll stop and have the chance to explore Pack Square, the Saint Lawrence Basilica, the Harrah’s Cherokee Center, the Grove Arcade, and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, among other super interesting places that have made Asheville the gem it is. 

The first station is at Pack Square, Asheville’s number one urban park, home to festivals, music concerts, art fairs, marches, and protests. Here, you’ll find Splashville, a splash pad to cool down in the summer, featuring colorful lighting after dark. 

From there, you’ll be led to many Insta-worthy spots, including a gigantic iron on Wall Street and a scene of bronze figures of musicians and dancers outside Harrah’s Cherokee Center. Have lunch at the art deco S&W Market, a food court that has many amazing and reasonably-priced options.

Spend extra time strolling around the Grove Arcade (Asheville’s first mall), where you can do a self-guided architectural tour and check out the fun shops.

4. Dance to Local Music at Two Friday Festivals 

Free Asheville Activity: Two Friday Festivals
Image courtesy of Laura Bernhein

If you are here during the warmer months, you can’t miss the Drum Circle on Friday nights at Pritchard Park. It’s an Asheville tradition where you can dance like nobody is watching or have a fascinating people-watching experience, including belly dancers, pet snakes, modern pirates with parrots, and people offering to write poems for you for a fee.

The drumming starts around sunset and goes on until late. Travelers join a group of seasoned local musicians and dancers, and the vibe couldn’t be more Asheville. If you are a drummer, bring yours and join the fun! 

You can pair the Drum Circle with Downtown After 5 (DTA5), and you’ll have a perfect Asheville-on-a-budget evening. This festival is a big street party that’s been around for 35 years. It occurs every third Friday from April to September on Lexington Ave., which was voted as one of the best streets in the US for its many street art pieces and unique shops.

The festival features local and regional bands, food trucks, and local beer. You can follow the festival’s Facebook page for updates. 

5. Enjoy Appalachian Music at Shindig on the Green

Shindig on the Green is a 57-year-old festival happening every Saturday in July and August from 7 pm to 10 pm at Pack Square. It’s a must-do activity in the summer and one of the coolest free things to do in Asheville. 

You’ll love the Southern Appalachian performances and dances, from bluegrass and old-time string bands to sweet ballads. You can even try clog-dancing! 

Between on-stage performances, folks are encouraged to play their instruments for informal jam sessions on the grass. This is a great chance to hang out with locals and meet new friends.

There are local food trucks and many affordable places to eat nearby. You can grab fantastic burritos from Mamacita’s, burgers from Farm Burgers, or tacos from White Duck Tacos and picnic while listening to music and enjoying the summer breeze. 

Although leashed dogs are allowed in public parks, only service dogs are permitted during special events. 

6. Spend Time at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe

Best Free Things to do in Asheville: Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe -

Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe has been a downtown landmark since it opened in 1982. It features an impressive collection of local and regional authors, a cafe with local goodies, a cool gift shop, and the most knowledgeable, friendly staff. 

No visit to Asheville is complete without a stop at Malaprop’s, and catching a book presentation here is one of the best things you can do in Asheville for free. Take some time to walk around the aisles. And, even if you are not ready to shop, feel free to ask questions. You’ll love how laid-back and welcoming everyone is. 

They have a great children’s section, where you can read books and play games for free. In addition to all this awesomeness, Malaprop’s is super dog-friendly and even has an Instagram page for dog visitors!

7. Join a Tip-Based Walking Tour 

Fun Free Things to do in Asheville: Asheville Free Walking Tours

Asheville Free Walking Tours is Asheville’s original tip-based tour and offers fantastic routes and information about how to do Asheville on a budget. While most tours are “pay what you want,” some have a $15 base, which is still very affordable.

The downtown tour is two hours long and covers everything you need to know about the past and present of Asheville, plus some surprises. Other tours explore the River Arts District and West Asheville, two super fun areas with many free things to do. 

They also offer a fantastic Music Tour and the only Ghost Tour that goes to the Riverside Cemetery, an Asheville historical landmark in the beautiful neighborhood of Montford, where you can visit Thomas Wolfe’s grave or perhaps leave a handwritten poem like many others have done.

If you have a tour idea and nobody offers it, they can work with you to make it happen. They can also accommodate private tours for your group. 

8. Listen to Bluegrass at Jack of the Wood

Jack of the Wood was established in 1997, and it’s one of the most legendary Asheville pubs, offering a great selection of whiskeys, a rotating menu of tap, local, and world craft beers, and some of the best local music. You’ll love the classic vibe and the friendly locals.

They host a Bluegrass Jam every Thursday night and feature touring bands on Fridays and Saturdays. They have a solid menu with excellent sandwiches and pub grub.  

Their Bluegrass Brunch on Sundays is one of Asheville’s best off-the-tourist-track brunches. Try Jack’s Irish Breakfast: two grilled corned beef and hash patties topped with two eggs and house-made hollandaise, served with home fries or cheddar grits, fresh fruit, and a house-made biscuit. 

9. Watch a Free Performance by the Montford Park Players

Free Asheville Activity: Montford Park Players
Image courtesy of Montford Park Players

Seeing the Montford Park Players perform in an amphitheater surrounded by trees and under the stars is an Asheville must-do. This is North Carolina’s longest-running Shakespeare theater company, and it’s free!

The performances occur from spring to fall in the outdoor Hazel Robinson Amphitheater in the Montford Community Center. This company is a true gift to the community and offers one of the most magical free things to do in Asheville.

You can buy snacks, beer, wine, and non-alcoholic drinks at the local concession stands or pack a picnic and eat it on a blanket like the locals do!

10. Slow Down at the Asheville Botanical Gardens

Best Free Things to do in Asheville: Asheville Botanical Gardens
Image courtesy of Botanical Gardens at Asheville

Visiting the Asheville Botanical Gardens is one of the best free activities in Asheville. Located a few minutes from downtown, it offers flowers, a small creek, fall foliage, bird-watching opportunities, a small but cute gift shop, and many photogenic spots. 

The trail is perfect for kids, and they’ll love playing around the small, gentle creek and taking a break from their downtown adventures.

The gardens are connected to the UNCA campus, so you’ll see students strolling around, meditating, or enjoying social gatherings. This is also one of the most popular spots for small wedding ceremonies and photo sessions. 

11. Explore Asheville’s Greenways

Asheville has a fantastic growing system of greenways. You can walk or bike and use them to explore the city at your own pace (many local spots rent e-bikes). There are chances to stop at parks, coffee shops, restaurants, and breweries. 

For example, the Glenn’s Creek and the Reed Creek greenways connect the north of downtown with Montford, all the way to Weaver Park, where you can have a barbeque sandwich at Luella’s for a few bucks or a frozen yogurt with tons of toppings at YOLO.

The 2-mile Wilma Dykeman Greenway on the east bank of the French Broad River borders the famous River Arts District and connects with the French Broad River Park and Carrier Park via the French Broad River Greenway on the west side.

Carrier Park is one of the best playgrounds in town, and visiting it is a favorite free activity for locals and visitors. It features a huge playground, picnic pavilions, a cool cycling velodrome (former race car track), and ballfields. The City of Asheville hosts roller skate disco parties on the velodrome in the warmer months. 

12. Ride a Free Trolley to the River Arts District

Fun Free Things to do in Asheville: River Arts District

Exploring the River Arts District (RAD) by the French Broad River is one of the most rewarding free things to do in Asheville. This area is home to over 200 art galleries and shops, restaurants, cafés, and a fun farmers’ market on Wednesdays where you can shop, eat, and listen to live music. 

If you visit the RAD during the second Saturday of the month, there will be free activities and workshops, including a free ArtsAVL Connect Trolley connecting the RAD with downtown.

The RAD also features an outstanding urban art collection, including Foundation Asheville, an artistic skate park created and maintained by volunteers. You and your Instagram account will love strolling around the different areas of the RAD to discover murals. Don’t miss the ever-changing silo mural (1 Robert St.), one of the most photographed places in Asheville.  

You’ll love checking out the studios, talking to the artists, and seeing them at work. Perhaps you can sign up to take a glass-blowing class or learn how to make jewelry. 

For affordable eats, try the Cuban comfort food at Guajiro‘s food truck outside of the Asheville Cotton Mill Studios, or take advantage of Baby Bull’s Burger Monday deals.  

13. Enjoy the North Carolina Arboretum 

Fun Free Things to do in Asheville: North Carolina Arboretum

You can enter the North Carolina Arboretum for a small parking fee per car, and the investment is worth it. You’ll have access to miles of well-maintained trails, flower gardens, special exhibits, and kid-friendly programs and educational activities that will give you hours of fun.

Spending a day strolling around these gardens is one of the best free activities in Asheville. The trails are dog-friendly, too, if you want to bring Fido along.

You’ll have a blast checking out flowers from spring to late fall. Don’t miss the National Native Azalea Collection in spring and early summer, the Orchid Festival in April, and the floral installations at the Bloom with a View event, featuring thousands of lilies and hydrangeas at eye level. Pack a picnic or have a solid lunch for less than $15 at the on-site bistro.

14. Explore the Historic Omni Grove Park Inn

Free Asheville Activity: Omni Grove Park Inn
 Image are courtesy of The Omni Grove Park Inn

Strolling around the famous Omni Grove Park Inn is totally free. You can park the car for free for a certain amount of time, but keep in mind that there is a parking fee during the holiday season and on specific dates, so call first before visiting.

You’ll love learning about the history of this historical landmark. The resort offers guided history tours for a small fee (accessible to guests), and a self-guided tour will take you to all the must-see places. 

You can enjoy the world-class hotel without breaking the bank. Some ideas: Have a drink or hot chocolate by the lobby’s gigantic fireplace, enjoy some of the most beautiful Asheville sunset views from the terrace, and make dining at one of the many on-site restaurants and bars part of your budget. 

15. Take a Brewery Tour of Sierra Nevada

Best Free Things to do in Asheville: Sierra Nevada
Image courtesy of Sierra Nevada

Asheville is all about the breweries, and the Sierra Nevada by the French Broad River is one of the best to visit with your family. It’s huge and super kid-friendly – there is a sandbox where your little ones will love to play and a certified organic vegetable and herb garden from which they source some of the farm-to-table food they serve.

The Sierra Nevada Mills River Tour will be a great addition to your time at this famous Asheville brewery, and the fee is unbeatable. You’ll learn the basics of beer-making – from the raw ingredients to the packaging process – and participate in a guided tasting of four beers. All for less than 10 bucks. Be sure to make reservations.

16. Enjoy the Outdoors

Fun Free Things to do in Asheville: Outdoors

This is obvious, but whether you’re on a budget or not, exploring our beautiful surroundings is one of the must-do activities in Asheville year-round. From scenic drives to beautiful hikes to chasing waterfalls and kayaking, you’ll have endless opportunities to experience the luxury of having direct, free access to nature.

Grab snacks, take the Blue Ridge Parkway, and head toward the Craggy Gardens Overlook for an easy hike with spectacular views. Or hit Black Balsam Knob on the Art Loeb Trail for a longer hike with equally impressive vistas and picnic spots. If it’s a blueberry-picking season, grab some for free at Graveyard Fields!

Chase waterfalls in Transylvania County, take plenty of photos of Looking Glass Falls, and cool down at Sliding Rock, a 60-foot natural water slide powered by 11,000 gallons of water per minute, ending in an 8-foot deep pool. 

You might prefer mountain biking at Bent Creek Experimental Forest’s trails or watching the sunrise over the bird sanctuary of Beaver Lake. Still, no matter your style, nature will offer a memorable (and free!) experience while you are in Asheville.

There you have it! The 16 best free things to do in Asheville. What’s your favorite free Asheville activity?


Born in Argentina, Laura is a journalist who's lived in Asheville for 10 years. She loves all things Asheville, from the vast business scene to the beautiful nonprofits, magical people, and marvelous nature. She loves being involved in projects that are the change she wants to see in the world.

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